on 28 February 2004
The 'Rarities and B-Sides collection' has always been something to be pretty wary of. Something that only the really solid fan of the artist should embrace. And with Pearl Jam's 'Lost Dogs' double-disc collection, that is basically how it goes. This doesn't mean that Pearl Jam are just any band whose music should only be bought by those who love them, far from it. Pearl Jam through the nineties and right on into the new millennium has been writing essential modern day rock music. Whether classic rock (The exceptional "Ten"), pure heavy rock (The rollicking "Vs"), experimentation (The love/hate "No Code" and parts of "Vitalogy"), rock in a more chartable style ("Yield") and a little bit of everything ("Binaural" and recently "Riot Act"). So it comes as no surprise that a B-Sides collection that has spanned their entire career, has a little bit of everything, and surprisingly all sounds very good as one item.
For sure, this is not an item that just anyone should buy, having knowledge of Pearl Jam does help, but "Lost Dogs" is much better than your average B-Sides package, and there are some startling omissions from their original releases. For example, how the achingly beautiful, 'Other Side', never made the average 'Riot Act', I'll never know, it would surely have been an album highlight. 'Fatal' not making the inconsistent 'Binaural' is also a bit of a mystery, but what it does say about this album, is that it plays like a studio album. Although many songs were recorded at completely different times, Vedder's voice stays fresh throughout, and you can hear the two guitarists, particularly Gossard, slowly learning to use their instruments to their best and occasionally even finding original styling.
The highlights do tend to come from disc 2, which is more involved in the balladry and slow rock style that Pearl Jam do well, and rather better than many of their peers. Take already well known numbers, such as the remake of a fifties, Eddie Cochran classic, 'Last Kiss', which is startlingly tragic under the watchful eye of Eddie Vedder, and add a load of unknowns and demos from PJ's past, and you get quite an atmosphere. The different versions of 'Ten' lost classics, 'Wash' and 'Footsteps', are very good as is the unique 'Strangest Tribe', but there is nothing more beautiful than the stirring and melancholic, 'Let Me Sleep'. Previously on a Christmas single, it's a beautiful, seasonal piece, that is grand in its feeling, but beautiful in its simplicity and Vedder's stunningly affecting lyrics: "Oh, when I was a kid/ How magic it seemed/ Oh, please let me sleep, it's Christmas time" sung in Vedder's tingling drawl is stunning.
But the rock songs are purely Pearl Jam in every way, shape and form. "Sad", "Down" and "Undone" are all tracks that should have made their respective albums, while "Yellow Ledbetter"s immortality as a fans and live classic is assured. "Hitchhiker" has a good example of the bizarre vocal effect that PJ started using around "Binaural", and "Don't Gimme No Lip", has one of the greatest PJ (Gossard) riffs of all time.
It makes for an at least intriguing listen, and for Pearl Jam fans it is indeed an essential, as it does play like an album, and the thoughts like "Why didn't this song make the cut?" and "Wow, they were really onto something there" will fly. For others, maybe not so, but the highlights are very, very good, and for anyone who's into classic rock and maybe a punk attitude, this should be an at least interesting listen, and is surprisingly consistent, and amazingly is their best release since 'Yield'. From looking at the inside of the cover there are plenty more demos out there to be let loose, but for now "Lost Dogs" is more than enough, and with nearly 2 hours of music, this should keep a lot of Pearl Jammers jamming for a long time. It won't win any new fans, but it's a terrific collection, and amazingly, one of Pearl Jam's better albums consistency wise.